By Cecilie Hestbæk, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Government officials have provisionally slated the pacification peacekeeping mission in Rocinha for January 2011, though police forces charged with the operation do not, it seems, expect it to happen before March. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela and a city within a city, are concerned about an uncertain future.
Baile Funk parties attended by armed dealers and their conspicuous sale of drugs on the streets might soon become things of the past in Rocinha – as might the front doors left unlocked and absence of petty crime in the community.
The Brazilian government had recently announced that UPP forces would not occupy Rocinha until nearer 2014, but now it seems that the date set for the police forces to enter has gotten significantly closer.
In September, local columnist Anselmo Góes of the O Globo newspaper wrote that the force of one thousand specially trained police officers will be initiating the pacification in January. His speculation, however, was contradicted by sources within the Polícia Militar, who suggested that as many as two thousand would be needed for the occupation, which would therefore not be possible before March or April 2011 by which time the necessary manpower should be trained.
When the pacification will happen is one question. More important for the inhabitants of Rocinha, though, is what will become of the police presence once they are there. Zezinho, a local who runs favela tours in the community, explains that the feelings of the residents about the upcoming police takeover are mixed;
“Generally, people do not trust the police, and they are worried that petty crime will be allowed to flourish in the morro with the strict law of the drug dealers gone as opposed to now, where for example theft is punished with a shot in the hand. A lot of people consider it a situation of ‘the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know’.”
However, crime rates in the other pacified favelas of Rio have decreased significantly, and although the drugs have not completely vanished, the combat arms certainly have.
With such great sums of money channeled daily through the favela from the on-going drug sale (the monthly amount of the Rocinha drugs market is estimated it to be in the millions of reais), the risk of severe fighting breaking out during the police take over is clear to see.
Nevertheless, these shootouts are not even the main worry of the people of Rocinha. Zezinho explains; “What people are really afraid of is what is going to happen after the Olympics. If the UPP leaves, an intense war to reclaim the drug market is going to break out.”
Whether the pacification of Rocinha will go down quietly or the drug lords will put up more staunch resistance than has been seen elsewhere will become evident in a few months. The long term effects on the community seem to be less certain.